Constructions of Normality and the Boundaries of Social Citizenship – Solo Mothers in the Swedish Welfare Model

Lena Wennberg


Discussions concerning the welfare of individuals today largely have a liberal profile: participation, independence, and free choice are discursively articulated in Swedish and European debates. The point of departure in this article is that gender equality needs to be seen as a question of substantive equality that is, becoming equal in the material sense; it cannot only be seen in the formal sense as a question of equal rights and protection against discrimination. As an analytical tool, ‘solo mothers’ is here used to disturb the different discourses that over time have led to the Swedish welfare model as well as the present Europeanising ones. Solo mothers offer a tool for interrogating critically the manner in which gender equality and social rights discursively link to each other over time and thus show how the social practices of gender are constructed, re-constructed and transformed in the Swedish welfare model in time and space. The conclusion is that gender neutrality in law, based on the liberal notion of an active citizen being primarily a wage-earner, that does not recognise and acknowledge gendered difference and diversity among citizens, runs the risk of reproducing solo mothers as defective family formations and second-rate citizens.


Sweden; welfare state; solo mothers; substantive equality; formal equality; gender difference

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